A Couple Making A Difference
December 12, 2006, Obuasi, Ghana —
Robert Abana, a quiet 34-year-old, and his wife, Mariama, live with their two children, ages 9 and 4, in the rural community of Obuasi, the heart of Ghana’s gold-mining industry.
Robert completed high school, but Mariama dropped out a few years short of graduation to settle down and get married. They both speak English very fluently, a mark of distinction in their town, where very few people attain a high level of education. Robert is an herbalist while Mariama, 33, is a trader who buys goods from neighboring Burkina Faso to sell to her customers in Obuasi.
The couple owns an herbal shop where they sell herbal preparations and nutritional health products. Its smallness, though, belies the wonderful work that goes on there.
Extending Their Reach
Customers come to the shop in search of herbal cures for various ailments. However, in the process of discussing their symptoms, Robert comes into contact with many people affected by HIV. Thus, besides providing herbal preparations, Robert and Mariama offer care and support services to HIV-positive clients, who would not feel comfortable seeking services openly. In Obuasi, HIV stigma and discrimination run high.
In August 2005, Robert and Mariama began training as caregivers with the Community Collaborative Care and Support project, which is provided by CRS in partnership with Obuasi Diocese. The effort is funded by CRS and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
“The training helped us to know a lot of things about how to care for people living with HIV and this changed our activities to serve our clients better," Robert says.
While Robert sells herbal preparations that help prevent and treat opportunistic infections, Mariama counsels patients. The couple also undertake at least three home visits to each of their patients every month. Some clients live more than two miles from the Abanas. Cases that cannot be handled by the couple are referred to the local hospital in Obuasi. Mariama sometimes donates a bag of rice from her stock for distribution to patients who cannot afford decent meals as they take their drugs.
Living With Compassion
“We do this out of compassion for our clients,” Mariama says. “The way I receive them makes them trust and share their problems with me.”
In response to a question on why these patients keep coming to them to access care and support services, Mariama said, “The way I receive them makes them trust and share their problems with me.”
Regarding the issue of disclosure, Robert says some of the clients they deal with have shared their HIV-positive status with their partners. The partners, in turn, get tested for HIV. Those who are positive also make use of the Abanas’ services.
But Robert and Mariama can’t do it all. Mariama notes that her clients are in need of food to take with their drugs and keep them healthy. The patients also need companionship and financial support to purchase drugs and other basic items. In some cases, the patients sell their belongings to acquire money to make these purchases.
CRS and Obuasi Diocese provide a wide range of care and support services to people living with HIV through support groups, but the innovative work of Robert and Mariama has opened another avenue to bring these services to those who need them.
Mariama mentions that their children are still too young to understand the work their parents do, but their 9-year-old boy often says he wants to be a doctor when he grows up.